GLENDALE, Ariz. — That University of Phoenix Stadium was going to be invaded by Green Bay Packers fans on Sunday was a topic of conversation leading into the NFC showdown.
To be fair, there was a solid Green Bay presence in the stands. But audibly, the Cardinals never really noticed as they raced to a 17-0 halftime lead and ultimately won 38-8.
“Our crowd was outstanding,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after the game. “I don’t know if there were any Packer fans here. I didn’t hear any of them.”
Solid burn, coach.
When preparing for a road game, any football team will say the best way to silence a hostile crowd is to take an early lead. The adage was never going to hold true for this one, since it was a home game for the Cardinals. No matter how many green- or yellow-clad fans were in attendance, the vast majority of the stadium was cheering for the home team.
In fact, there were only a couple instances where you would have even noticed there was a strong visitor presence at all. Then again, there was little reason for Packers fans to make noise.
Credit the Cardinals for making the Packer attendance moot, if not mute. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said the Cardinals used their silent snap count quite a bit.
“They were loud, I mean, we were expecting it,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “They travel great. It’s a great fan base, but our fans took over that game.”
Another historic day for Palmer
At some point, you run out of superlatives to describe the kind of season the Cardinals’ quarterback is having. It’s a good problem to have.
Palmer completed 18-of-27 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns while being picked off once. It was a potentially devastating turnover, as it came in the final minutes of the first half when Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels read and picked off a screen pass.
Arians called it a “FUBAR.”
— Craig Grialou (@CraigAZSports) December 28, 2015
Palmer said any time someone with a 70-number gets an interception, it’s on the quarterback.
“It was unfortunate that I did that,” he said. “I put us in a tough spot, but our defense, when their back is against the wall, I think they play even better. To stop them and to get the interception we did, we owed that to them to go down there and score like we did.”
And score they did. Following Justin Bethel’s interception of Aaron Rodgers a few plays later, Palmer calmly marched the Cardinals on a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a pass to John Brown. It gave the Cardinals a 17-0 lead heading into halftime.
It’s been a record setting season for Palmer, who not long ago passed Kurt Warner for the most touchdown passes in a single season by a Cardinal and Sunday threw his 33rd and 34th touchdown passes, the latter of which gave him a personal single-season record.
“It’s a great honor to pass a guy that’s held the record, like Kurt Warner, and the career he’s had and the player he was,” Palmer said. “Obviously, a tremendous honor. But, it’s not a goal. It wasn’t a goal. Winning is the ultimate goal and just honored to have passed him on that record.
“But, we’ve got bigger goals and bigger plans.”
Learning from 2014
With Sunday’s win, the Cardinals clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs. It was also their 13th win of the season. It’s been a historic campaign for the team, and one that could very well stretch deep into the playoffs.
In a way, though, it seems as if this should have been last year’s story line. The Cardinals battled through injuries and got off to a 9-1 start, but ultimately couldn’t sustain and faded down the stretch. Arizona won just two of its final six games, and then bowed out meekly in the Wild Card round.
Asked which team was better, last year’s or this year’s, Arians did not hesitate.
“This one,” he said. “This one, because they’ve learned their lessons.”
It’s also, knock on wood, healthier.
Defensive end/linebacker Dwight Freeney, who won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, said these Cardinals are “up there” with some of the best squads he’s ever been a part of.
“It is very similar type of feel,” he said. “We were humming in Indy, 05, 06, 07 — those years it was a lot of points. getting up and then having the defense chase the quarterback.
“Especially with how exotic this defense is. So many things that we do, the coverage guys, the depth that we have, the sky’s the limit for this team. The best thing right now is we’re playing the best ball in the end of December, championship type of football now. So we’re picking up steam.”
The Cardinals have won nine in a row, and their two most recent victories — 40-17 over the Eagles in Philadelphia and then Sunday’s rout — were two of the most impressive they’ve had all season. In total, the Cardinals have notched six wins of at least 20 points or more.
They’re good — really good. They were good last year, too, but again, injuries.
“We have some pass rushers that can really get home,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of what makes this year’s team better. “I think that’s the biggest difference. We were a really good football team and you lose your best player, it is tough to recover. It would be the same for any elite team that has an elite quarterback that struggled down the stretch.
“Everybody is healthy and we are trying to make our move.”
Patrick Peterson was there — really
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson showed up in the box score having made three tackles and then another on special teams.
In coverage, well, he didn’t really do much. It wasn’t his fault, though, as the Packers didn’t really seem to interested in testing the Pro Bowler.
“I got two (targets),” Peterson said. “I got the incomplete and the over that 84 dropped. I was on him but he dropped the ball. I hope they don’t count those tight end catches because that’s not my man but last week Pro Football Focus got me for that one. That is not my guy.”
Instead of challenging Peterson, the Packers decided to mostly attack Justin Bethel. He gave up a few passes but also intercepted one and otherwise held his own.
“You kind of have to know it’s going to happen,” Bethel said. “It’s not like I’m surprised. I don’t know how many times they threw at me. They kept on doing that back shoulder. That’s like one of the hardest routes to cover. There are definitely some things that I can get better at. I’m going to keep working and get ready for the playoffs.”
Bethel joked he didn’t think Peterson broke a sweat because he didn’t have to do much.
“When you have guys like Pat on the outside, you have to know, if you’re the opposite corner, that you’re going to get a lot of work.”
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